Tropical forests have been cut at a rapid rate to make room for agriculture and to extract their many valuable products. Every year, at least 180,000 square kilometres of tropical forests and woodlands are cleared for unsustainable shifting cultivation, settlements, ranching and other agricultural schemes. Timber harvest contracts have usually been short term and have provided little or no incentive for timber companies to replant. So little reforestation has been done in the Tropics that many people believe these forests cannot be restored. Several factors underlie the destruction of tropical forests. One is inequitable distribution of land and power, political and economic, enabling the wealthy to liquidate forests for profit; and forcing large numbers of landless and near-landless to colonize the forests and to try to farm land that is unsuitable for agriculture. Another is insecure land tenure for forest dwellers leading to short term maximization of profits. Further inequities in the international economy force lower-income countries to sell whatever they can, including their forests.
Once covering some 15.3 billion acres (6.2 billion ha), tropical forests have been reduced through cutting and clearing by 210 million acres (85 million ha) between 1985 and 1990. Ethiopia had 45% of its original forest cover in 1900; today it has only 1-3% remaining. By 1920 Haiti had 60% of its forest left; which by 1987 was down to only 2%. Madagascar has lost 93% of its forest cover.